November 18, 2018

Ex-treme Takeoff

You always see him one more time. It’s inevitable. And it’s always on a bad hair day.

I’m flying home from a Chi-town visit with the Davis fam. Sporting yoga pants, glasses and a tired green hoodie, I grab my backpack, my book, “Midlife Crisis at 30” (required airplane reading), and board the plane.

I spot him immediately. Or at least the back of his head. He’s 25 feet ahead of me, but it’s a whole “back of his head like the back of my hand” thing. I know it’s him. I just don’t know how to react.

Ben and I had an on again, off again, on (me) again five-month stint about four years ago. Haven’t seen him since. There was no heated argument or “we need to talk.” The relationship just ran out of ink, faded away. OK, fine — he stopped calling. After he pulled the Elijah, I kept hoping for one more chance, one more call, one more date, when he’d see me and realize he’d made a huge mistake.

But this was not the moment I imagined. This was not the outfit I saw myself wearing. This was not the book I wanted to be caught reading.

With Ben’s noggin in clear view, I analyze my options and do what any self-sufficient woman would do. I duck behind the tall dude in front of me. Chances are, I’ll be seated rows in front of Ben and he’ll never know I’m here. I’m short. I’m blonde. I can blend.

As I inch down the aisle, I realize blending’s not an option. Because sitting right next to me, assigned to the aisle seat across from mine, is my ex, Ben. The stewardess asks that I return my jaw to the upright position, because we’re ready for takeoff.

I throw my frozen deep dish in the overhead, my JanSport under the seat, and hear, “Carin?”

“Ben, hey…. Wow. How funny is this? How are you?”

This should make for good in-flight entertainment. I frantically sit on my book, pull the scrunchie from my hair, and pray my glasses scream sexy librarian. In the movies, the ex run-in always occurs in a great dress on a fun date with a new guy. In real life, no such thing.

My friend, Angel, ran into her ex while walking home from pottery class covered in clay. My friend Jen saw her former beau at the gym. I bumped into an ex at the Pavilions checkout. I was buying wine, ice cream and a 12 pack — of toilet paper. Not exactly the stuff of a Meg Ryan rom-com. And now I’m trapped on a 4 1/2 hour, 1,749-mile friendly skies reunion with no place to go but aisle. And I thought the worst thing about this flight was going to be my kosher meal.

“This is so great, Carin. What’s going on with you? What are you up to?”

Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten your seat belt sign, we are about to experience turbulence.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see Ben; I just didn’t want to see him like this. Ben’s supposed to think I’m cute and successful and happy. I’m supposed to wow him with my impossible beauty and enviable career. I want him to think I’m stunning and funny and the one that got away. But with the way I look right now, he’s probably thinking, thank God he got away.

I know, I know — why do I care what a boyfriend from six boyfriends ago thinks? I guess it’s an ego thing. A whole “I Want You to Want Me,” “I Will Survive,” “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” remix. The look on his face when he grasps that he was right — it wasn’t me, it was him — is the ultimate “I told you so, your loss buddy, I still got it” confidence booster.

Two bags of free pretzels later, Ben and I move beyond “what’s a five-letter word for awkward” and talk careers, life, even current dating sitches. I don’t feel a thing. And not just because I pounded two mid-flight mini-vodkas. I no longer have feelings for Ben. Not a yearning, a pulled heartstring or a mile-high urge. Guess my emotional baggage shifted during flight. Ben’s a great guy, a smart guy, but not everything I built him up to be. This run-in made me realize his opinion doesn’t matter. Bad travel clothes aside, I’m doing just fine on my own.

Besides it’s not like he’s doing that well. He is flying coach.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at